Quick Time: Promoting ideas and chassis swaps
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
Take a quick lap around the proverbial dirt track with managing editor Todd Turner for roundup of Dirt Late Model racing through the latest weekend of action. Quick Time, one of the newest features of our website, will appear every Wednesday at DirtonDirt.com:
Frontstretch: Drivers of the Week
National: In his only scheduled start between March 1-May 1, Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., led all the way in Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway's Illini 100 for a $20,000 payday. Mars fought off challenges from runner-up Darrell Lanigan for his fifth career World of Outlaws Late Model Series victory.
Regional: Jason Covert of York Haven, Pa., swept his season-opening weekend, leading all but one lap of Friday and Saturday features at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Winchester (Va.) Speedway. The 41-year-old Covert outran Jeremy Miller at Williams Grove, then outdueled division rookie Trever Feathers and Ronnie DeHaven Jr. to win by a half-car length at Winchester.
Weekly: Jase Kaser, the 19-year-old driver from Lincoln, Neb., swept the Spring Thaw season-opening weekend on Saturday and Sunday at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., for a perfect 2-for-2 start to the season. Kaser outran runner-up Alex Humphrey of Giltner, Neb., in both events for NASCAR-sanctioned Late Models.
Turn 1: Intriguing admission ideas
New promoter Kevin Bayer heard plenty of skepticism when he announced rock-bottom $5 admission this season at Clay County Speedway in Flora, Ill. "You're not going to make it," one critic said. "You're going to cut your own throat," predicted another.
But Bayer's gamble with $5 grandstand admission for all ages paid off as the third-mile dirt oval that had drawn just a few hundred fans in its final races last season drew more than 1,150 people for pit and grandstand admission at the March 31 opener.
"People couldn't hardly believe the price, and it's all six classes," said Bayer, a 42-year-old Jasper, Ind., resident who also promotes Chandler (Ind.) Motor Speedway. "We'll see how it goes next week. It was a good thing and I want to keep it."
Bayer got the idea, in part, because he knows from personal experience how expensive a trip to the racetrack can be for a family of five. When he takes wife Tara and his three boys, it can be $50 or $60 to get the family in the gate, and for special events it's usually too expensive to even consider.
So he figured the flat $5 admission — half what the previous promoter charged for adults — would catch the attention of fans, draw spectators who might not visit the track at a higher cost, and give patrons extra money for concessions. "You hook 'em," Bayer said.
Indeed, Clay County drew a solid opening-night crowd, and concessions virtually sold out, in part because of a $5 deal for a hamburger, drink, chips and a cookie. It's a family affair as Tara supervises concessions, 15-year-old son Dalton flags the races (earning his own paycheck), 14-year-old son Brandon helps with scoring and 12-year-old Dustin plays gopher.
The six-division program featured 83 race cars — non-winged sprint cars, modifieds and Crate Late Models among them — and Bayer hopes the track can continue its success. After all, there are more than 3,000 seats and he'd like to build even bigger crowds.
"You can come out here and enjoy a race and a have a meal for $10," Bayer boasts.
Quirks and gimmicks for grandstand admission can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. Here's a look at some other creative ideas:
• Carload nights at $20 per vehicle allows diehard fans to bring a few friends for free, and a bigger crowd can mean a bigger night for concessions.
• In a twist on carload nights, Houston (Texas) Raceway Park in the past provided free admission tickets fans could pick up at track-sponsoring stores. The track charged $10 for parking and drew overflowing crowds with huge concession sales.
• At Tri-County Racetrack in Brasstown, N.C., Ray Cook — driver of the No. 53 on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series — allows every 53rd person to come through the grandstand gate with free admittance.
• The idea of a "Daisy Dukes" night is popular at some tracks, or any gimmick where fans get free admission for making an effort to wear something special. For instance, this Friday at Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway, women 18-and-over get in free if they're sporting Daisy Dukes shorts and cowboy boots.
Turn 2: I want a new car
The jury's out on what will happen with Jimmy Owens, but it's certainly interesting news this week that the two-time World 100 winner and reigning Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion has added a Barry Wright Race Car to a team that has exclusively fielded Bloomquist Race Cars for five seasons.
That got me thinking: What are the most significant chassis changes in history? Of course, most Dirt Late Model racers spend a handful of years in this chassis, another five years in that chassis, and end up driving cars from two or three — of five — manufacturers over a career (they all can't be Mike Jewell, the Scottsburg, Ind., driver who has exclusively driven for MasterSbilt Race Cars in more than 20 years of Late Model racing).
But let's take a look at some of the chassis changes that have turned out to have historical importance (or may indeed have even more significance down the road):
Billy Moyer (1992): The Hall of Famer from Batesville, Ark., had driven for Larry Shaw Race Cars for a dozen years when he brought a Rayburn Race Car and Shaw car to Florida Speedweeks in '92, then switched primarily to the Rayburn the rest of the season.
Scott Bloomquist (1997): After dominating the Hav-A-Tampa Dirt Racing Series through the mid-'90s, Bloomquist and car builder Barry Wright parted ways in the spring of '97, splitting up a juggernaut combination. Bloomquist dabbled with a Rayburn and eventually settled with Warrior Race Cars before his launching own chassis in 2004.
Bill Frye (1998): After a tremendous run as the GRT Race Cars house car driver throughout the '90s, Frye switched briefly to a Rayburn and then a Warrior (before returning to GRT as a customer a few years later).
Rick Eckert (2007): After a World of Outlaws-high eight victories in 2006, Eckert ended nearly 10 years driving Rocket Chassis in switching first to MasterSbiltl before ending up with Bloomquist Race Cars at the outset of 2009, frequently struggling before his 2011 WoO championship season.
Earl Pearson Jr. (2010): Parking a MasterSbilt after winning seven Lucas Oil Series races through mid-season, Pearson's Bobby Labonte Racing team launched its in-house Longhorn Chassis. The four-time series champ has been winless on the tour since.
Steve Francis (2010): After a dozen years with Rocket, Francis switched to Barry Wright Race Cars late in the season (then to MasterSbilt early in 2011). He returned to BWRC in 2012, piloting the house car to three Florida Speedweeks victories.
Terry Phillips (2012): The six-time MARS champ ended nearly 20 years with GRT Race Cars in switching to a Bloomquist-designed machine during the off-season.
Backstretch: Weekly racing notes
• Quincy (Ill.) Raceway launched its first UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned season with Justin Reed of Collinsville, Ill., winning Sunday's Late Model feature. Reed overtook Brandon Sheppard on the 14th lap at the track which previously fielded IMCA-sanctioned events for 14 seasons.
• Jim Schmidt of Cleveland, Wis., earned $1,200 Sunday for his victory in the Frost Buster at Seymour (Wis.) Speedway, the first (non-points) Wisconsin Dirt Late Model Association event of the season.
• At Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., Richard Ferry of Macclenny, Fla., won Saturday's 23-lap Late Model feature honoring the late Lawton Minchew, the driver of the No. 23 who died at his DeLeon Springs, Fla., earlier in the week.
• David Puckett of King George, Va., led every lap from outside the front row Friday for his first Limited Late Model victory at Potomac Speedway in Budds Creek, Md. “The car was as good as its ever been down here and I just wanted to get as far out front as I could," Puckett said. "It was definitely a good night.”
• Devin Shiels of Britton, Mich., raced to victory Saturday at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park's opener for his first Late Model triumph at the track.
• David McCoy of Franklin, N.C., stayed perfect in Limited Late Model action at Toccoa (Ga.) Speedway on Saturday with his third straight victory of the season.
• Teenager Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, swept action at Hilltop Speedway's opener on Saturday, setting fast time, winning his heat race and leading every lap of the feature in Millersburg, Ohio.
• Opening his 45th anniversary season, Butch McGill of West Union, W.Va., took the lead three times — two were erased by cautions — in grabbing Saturday's Super Late Model victory at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va.
Turn 3: A wild and crazy finish
With six laps remaining in Saturday's 40-lap feature at County Line Raceway, J.P. Cascell wasn't even running among the top five for the $2,000 winner's purse at the Elm City, N.C. But as it turned out, the Fremont, N.C., driver was in the right place at the right time when the checkers fell.
Cascell crossed the line second after a wild last lap, but he was declared the winner in a crowded victory lane among other drivers who hoped to get their picture taken. The official ruling set off a celebration for Cascell, who raised both arms in triumph for his victory in the Barnes Equipment-sponsored Late Model division.
Cy Nelms Sr. dominated the race, leading fellow front-row starter Daniel Tucker until a late caution set up a green-white checkered finish. Nelms led at the white flag and appeared to be headed to victory, but Tucker made contact that sent Nelms spinning between turns three and four. While Tucker took the checkers, officials stripped him of the apparent victory by virtue of the contact. Afterwards, the frontstretch was crowded with supporters of would-be winners before Cascell was declared the winner.
Cascell topped Travis Hair, Damon Kotke, Christian Thomas and James Batten while Nelms was scored 10th and Tucker was placed 11th.
"The $2,000 payday is definitely a good start to the season," Cascell said. "I've been part of some pretty crazy finishes, demolition derbies on the last lap where guys still hold on. When it comes to last-lap finishes and when it comes to pressure, I've always been pretty decent at keeping my composure and making the best of what happens on the last lap."
Not only that, Cascell's victory was nice redemption from the previous event at County Line on March 17 when he led all but two laps before Dustin Mitchell overtook him with a late rally.
Turn 4: Turn back the clock
Five items from this week in Dirt Late Model history:
April 7, 1979: Tom Laster of Muskogee, Okla., won on the historic half-mile oval of State Fair Motor Speedway in Sedalia, Mo., in the first-ever event on the National Speedway Contest Association.
April 3, 1993: Rick Eckert of York, Pa., captured the season opener on the Short Track Auto Racing Stars circuit, grabbing a victory at West Virginia Motor Speedway in Mineral Wells, W.Va., for his second career win on the series.
April 6, 1997: Rodney Franklin of White Post, Va., notched his 85th career victory at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway, eclipsing Denny Bonebrake as the winningest driver in history at the half-mile oval. Bonebrake finished ninth.
April 9, 2000: On a Sunday afternoon when 58 Late Models packed the pits, Kevin Claycomb of Vincennes, Ind., won a $2,000 Northern Allstars event at Red Hill Raceway in nearby Sumner, Ill. the polesitting Claycomb — debuting a GRT Race Car — survived a lap-22 collision with third-running Don O'Neal, then overtook race-long leader Steve Casebolt on the 27th of 30 laps.
April 9, 2004: Nathan Rettig, the youngster who started racing Late Models as a preteen, died after flipping in an all-terrain vehicle accident near his Sikeston, Mo., home. The 13-year-old had won Limited Late Model features at Malden (Mo.) Speedway and Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway in Calvert City, Ky., during the '02 season.
Checkered flag: Five fearless April predictions
• A non-Lucas Oil regular will capture the $25,000 Commonwealth 100 at Virginia Motor Speedway in Jamaica, Va., on April 13-14.
• Out-of-state drivers will sweep the season-opening Sunoco American Late Model Series weekend April 13-14 at Ohio's Moler Raceway Park and Eldora Speedway.
• Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., will be atop of Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points at the end of April.
• A Missouri driver will capture the Great American Dirt Track's Sunflower State Showdown, the $12,000-to-win event April 28 in Jetmore, Kan.
• The success of Peoria (Ill.) Speedway's April 14 Don Bohlander Tribute will usher in an annual clash of Iowa's Dart Corn Belt Clash and UMP DIRTcar competitors from Illinois.